What You Need For An Energy-Efficient Gaming PC

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intelcorei52500kthumb   What You Need For An Energy Efficient Gaming PCGaming computers are some of the most powerful consumer PCs on the market. Though beefy dual-processor workstations exist, they’re for work rather than play. People who buy a powerful computer for personal use usually do it so they can play the latest games.

These computers are impressive, but they also draw a lot of power. This can slightly increase your power bills. More importantly, it often has an impact on the noise and heat your PC puts you. A computer that needs less power for the same task can also perform it while cooler and quieter. But what do you need to ensure efficiency?

The Video Card

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Of all the components in a gaming computer the video card consumes the most power. A high-end card can add over 100 watts of power draw to your system when it’s running at full load. Depending on your computer, this could double power demand and drastically increase both noise and heat.

If you’re interested in energy efficiency you should make sure to buy only the quickest video card that you need to obtain a framerate you consider acceptable. A card that is overkill for a particular game will usually use more energy than one which is just adequate, but you likely won’t notice a difference in the game experience. Anandtech’s GPU Bench is a good way of gauging what video card will work for you.

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You also need to pay attention to reviews. Some video cards are drastically more efficient than others when performing the same task. NVIDIA’s new video cards based on the Kepler architecture, for example, have remarkably low power draw.

The only way to reduce the power of a card you already have is to underclock it. This is the opposite of overclocking – the clock speed is set below stock rather than above it. This can be accomplished using a tool such as RivaTuner (for NVIDIA products) or settings built in to the card’s driver software (for AMD products).

The Processor

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Your computer’s processor is the second most important contributor to overall power draw. Anyone interested in energy efficiency should simply buy the most powerful Intel processor they can afford. All of Intel’s products beat the snot out of AMD’s efficiency.

What about dual-core vs. quad-core? Dual-cores undoubtedly use less power. Most tests suggest that a Core i3 dual-core processor will use about 20 watts less at load than an entry-level Core i5 quad-core. With that said, a quad-core is much better for serious gamers. It’s worth the extra power.

Don’t plan on overclocking if efficiency is your goal. Processors draw more power as their clock speeds are increased above stock. On the other hand, you can undervolt your processor to reduce its power draw while maintaining the same performance or underclock it to reduce both power draw and performance. This will only be possible if your computer’s BIOS offers configuration options that let you change processor voltage.

The Power Supply

corsairpowersupply   What You Need For An Energy Efficient Gaming PC

A computer’s power supply is an important factor in overall efficiency. Power supplies are responsible for converting power from a wall socket into usable power for a computer. This process is not 100% efficient. A poor quality power supply can lose 30% of power drawn as heat. That increases overall power draw from the wall socket.

The 80 Plus standard has been created to judge the efficiency of power supplies. Any unit that reaches this standard is at least 80% efficient at all levels of load. There are other even better versions of 80 Plus which are explained in our power supply guide.

An efficient power supply will reduce overall power draw and heat output. It’s also likely to be quieter since it needs less cooling. A handful of supplies, such as the Seasonic SS-460FL, are so efficient they don’t need any fan at all.

Game Settings

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Some games offer a maximum framerate setting. This is an excellent way to reduce energy draw when playing a game that is not at all demanding for your video card. Diablo 3, for example, has framerate cap settings that are handy because the game can run at hundreds of frames per second on many gaming PCs.

You might also be able to reduce power draw by enabling V-Sync. This feature caps framerate at a certain maximum to ensure that no frame tearing occurs. In some games, depending on how the feature is implemented, it can reduce power draw by preventing your video card from rendering more frames than required to provide a playable experience.

Reducing video quality is also an option, of course, though it has the obvious trade-off of making your games appear less attractive. I think most gamers are unlikely to find that an acceptable compromise. It also may not impact power draw positively if the game offers no way of limiting framerates.

Conclusion

Gaming will always require more power than most other tasks a computer can perform. This is because a modern game usually places heavy demand on both the processor and the video card. There are not many other applications that do the same.

Still, you can improve your efficiency significantly by taking the suggestions in this article to heart. A gaming rig build with power use in mind can easily be 25% more efficient than one which was built without concern for the same. That will save you money, reduce heat and decrease noise.

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17 Comments - Write a Comment

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Melroy D’monte

Oh! how i drool over that radeon card. I just wish i could afford it though. Good article btw. Thanks

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Arron Walker

Good advice – I’m upgrading my pc this new year, and this is definitely something to take into consideration. The intel part especially – better wait till I upgrade my motherboard before I buy a new processor, since I’m using the AM2 socket right now.

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Efi Dreyshner

Great article – Thanks!

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Yanni Pang

is intel better or radeon?

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Yanni Pang

I love that radeon card! So awesome

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Lisa Santika Onggrid

Which consumes more energy? Turning the machine off everytime you stop playing or let it hibernates? Some people told me starting the machine will use good amount of energy.

Matt Smith

Starting the computer doesn’t use any extra energy. However, a PC shouldn’t use any energy while in hibernate either. So one is as good as the other from the energy-saving perspective.

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Douglas Mutay

Thanks for this rich article. I would never thought someone would underclock a card. ;-)

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Austen Gause

thanks now when i upgrade my pc i can save money on the energy bill

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Bernardo Delapasion

nice i wish icould afford it

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khaki 211

for game which is more important graphics card or cpu

Matt Smith

Graphics card. But a few games (like Guild Wars 2) also require a strong quad-core.

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Kannon Y

Great article Matt! Thanks for the info!

What do you think about the A10-5700? In the 5700, we get a 65 watt processor combined with a decent GPU (if fast RAM is used) for a killer price.

Using the 5700, one might build an effective gaming rig with a 160 (200) watt PSU. In fact, we can even take your article to its logical conclusion using it:

on an FM2 mITX board, it’s possible to build a Trinity system using a 160-watt passive PSU, rated at over 90% efficiency. All that for a total of less than $300.

Comparably, an Intel rig would cost a great deal more, take up more space and have far greater drain. Of course, it would be a serious machine with outstanding performance, but in energy efficiency and performance-cost ratios, Intel doesn’t compare favorably with AMD’s Trinity. AMD’s QC is quite a bit better, too.

Matt Smith

Actually Intel is way better than AMD by any measure of efficiency. It’s not even close.

That’s not to say a system like you suggest would be poor, however. It would probably serve the needs of many people interested in energy-efficient computing and it could play some games.

Then again, a system with a new Intel dual-core and a mid-range discrete graphics card would be much more capable.

Kannon Y

Thanks for the reply!

The A10-5800K (could barely fit into a low wattage mITX platform) plays all modern games at mid-level resolutions. The comparisons with i3 Ivy Bridge are only fair using a discrete GPU comparable to the Radeon 6670 and below, if you are trying to compare CPUs across price ranges. Such comparisons between Intel and AMD all heavily favor AMD. Above $400, Intel gains the upper hand. And at the highest end of the spectrum $1,000+, Intel is untouchable (as you clearly are aware).

RE: Efficiency, I know what you’re saying, but in performance-per-watt, total cost and performance-per-dollar, anything below $400-450 is in AMD’s favor, with Trinity at least. Would we call that efficiency? Not sure, but certainly if one is interested in low wattage systems below $500, their best bet is AMD. Of course above that, Intel is the best.

Would you agree or disagree? I only suggest this as it would bring some balance to an already great article. Thanks again for the article!

Matt Smith

I think I might agree within that budget but it will depend on what you’re doing. The problem is that once you actually load a Trinity part it starts gobbling way more power than an Intel Core i3 (which is of comparable performance, particularly in games). The testing I’ve seen also indicates that once you add discrete graphics into the comparison the Core i3 based system consumes less power at both idle and load.

So that leaves the AMD system a decent choice if you’d going to rely on the IGP alone. But then the problem becomes the limited capabilities of that setup. You’re only going to be able to play modern games at low resolutions and detail settings. Most people interested in gaming won’t find that acceptable.

Kannon Y

I haven’t crossfired yet, but it’s been reported that most modern games run considerably better on high resolution using a 6670 with the A10-5800K than with the i3+6670. But i3 doesn’t (I think) support SLI with IGP.

The power drain situation appears to be all over the place, however. In a crossfire rig, the discrete is supposed to disengage when not in use – but since I don’t have crossfire, can’t confirm.

What’s disturbing to me about all this is that Intel could easily choose to lower their prices and simply wink AMD out of existence. Instead, they’ve scaled back their QC. Perhaps Haswell will finally kill off AMD? It supposedly is Trinity + CPU performance + energy efficient.

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